Big Texas Field Set For IndyCar Double-Header

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, June 7 2011

The Panther Racing crew of JR Hildebrand heads off to Texas Motor Speedway this weekend for two races. (Photos by the IZOD IndyCar Series)

Fort Worth, Texas – A track-record 30 entries will compete in the Firestone Twin 275s at Texas Motor Speedway Saturday night, eclipsing the previous high car-count of 28.

The last time an IZOD IndyCar Series race outside the Indianapolis 500 featured more than 30 cars occurred during the season-finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 11, 1997. The first of two 114-lap races around TMS’ 1.5-mile quadoval is scheduled for 8:45 p.m. (EDT). The grid for the first race will be set by traditional qualifying on Friday, with the starting lineup for the second race determined by a blind draw during a one-hour intermission following the first race.

“IndyCar Series races at Texas Motor Speedway have never disappointed, and with a record 30 cars on the track the excitement of the Firestone Twin 275s will reach a whole new level,” said Eddie Gossage, TMS president. “Texas Motor Speedway hosting the first twin races in IndyCar Series history makes it big and this only enhances the significance.”

The 21 previous IndyCar Series events held at TMS have featured 28-car fields on four occasions, most recently the 2008 Bombardier Learjet 550k won by Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing. The other races with 28 entries were the 2002 Chevy 500k (Sam Hornish Jr./Panther Racing); the 1998

Ryan Briscoe is headed down Texas way this weekend where he is the defending race winner.

Lone Star 500k (John Paul Jr./Jonathan Byrd Racing) and ‘98 True Value 500k (Billy Boat/A.J. Foyt

The 30 drivers scheduled to compete in the Firestone Twin 275s hail from 12 countries: United States (8), England (5), Brazil (4), Canada (3), Australia (2), New Zealand (2) and Japan, Spain, Scotland, Colombia, Switzerland and Venezuela (1 each).

Ryan Briscoe of Team Penske is defending champion of an event that saw Andretti Autosport teammates Danica Patrick and Marco Andretti round out the podium. Briscoe qualified on-pole last June at 215.273 mph en route to leading a race-high 102 laps and a margin of victory of 1.4629-seconds over Patrick. In his first appearance since winning the 2010 Indy 500, Dario Franchitti of TCGR lead 86 laps while eventually placing fifth.

Saturday’s live High Definition telecast will begin at 8 p.m. (EDT) on VERSUS. The race also will air live on the IMS Radio Network, SiriusXM Channel 94 and www.indycar.com. Tickets remain available with the best deal – 2 for $49 – concluding at the close of business Thursday. To purchase tickets contact the Texas Motor Speedway ticket office at (817) 215-8500, or visit www.texasmotorspeedway.com.

Indianapolis 500 runner-up JR Hildebrand has spent the past week dealing publicly with the “What if?” question surrounding his last-corner/last-lap crash while in the lead at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 29. Hildebrand’s crash opened the door for Dan Wheldon to score his second career victory in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in a one-off ride with Bryan Herta Autosport.

Hildebrand, a 23-year-old rookie competing for Panther Racing, recounted the final lap of the 100th anniversary Indy 500 during a break while testing at The Milwaukee Mile last week for the IndyCar Series race in West Allis, Wis., on June 19.

“I’ve always been sort of a math/science type of guy,” said Hildebrand, driver of the No. 4 National

JR Hildebrand poses with young fan at Indianapolis.

Guard Dallara/Honda. “I’d like to think I have a pretty logical perspective on what goes on, and I think that allows all of us to look back at what happened and take it for what it is. There’s a lot of fairly complex things that went into what ended up transpiring on the last couple of corners.

“No matter how it ended up, it wasn’t about me. It was about the team putting me in this incredible situation, especially how it worked out at the end of the race.”

Hildebrand’s highest IndyCar Series finish – and second consecutive top-10 – propelled him to eighth in the driver’s championship. Hildebrand also leads James Hinchcliffe of Newman/Haas Racing by 33 points in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings.

Hildebrand now faces three consecutive weekends on distinctly different ovals – the 1.5-mile, high-banked TMS quadoval on Saturday; the flat Milwaukee Mile (June 19) and the 0.875-mile, variably-banked Iowa Speedway (June 25). The former and latter events will be run under the lights. The format for the Firestone Twin 275s features two 114-lap races with a one-hour intermission.

Hildebrand joined a dozen IndyCar Series competitors on The Milwaukee Mile, recording 99 laps in preparation for the Milwaukee 225. During his Firestone Indy Lights championship season in 2009, Hildebrand started and finished second to pole-sitter Mario Romancini at the historic oval.

“For everybody at Panther Racing it was refreshing to focus on something different, and Milwaukee and Indy are so different it was nice to be in a new situation and start moving forward,” Hildebrand said. “Indianapolis was a big sigh of relief for all of us because now we know we can do this right and be competitive. And we’re definitely taking that with us as we move forward.

“It’s been a couple years since I’ve ran (The Milwaukee Mile) in anything, but we rolled out and were up to speed right away. We got settled-in pretty quick, and from there it was just all of us trying to make progress on the day. There were a lot of things I was picking up on as we worked through the day. It’s a different place, but having ran two days in Phoenix (International Raceway) in December prepared me for running at Milwaukee even though those two tracks are very different.”

Jay Howard will reprise his Indy 500 role as driver of the No. 88 Service Central Sam Schmidt Motorsport/Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing car in the Firestone Twin 275s Saturday night at Texas

Bobby Rahal will put Jay Howard back into one of his IndyCars this weekend in Texas.

Motor Speedway.

“Service Central has believed in me from the start and it’s very exciting to return with them to the Texas Motor Speedway,” Howard said in a statement. “Our Indy 500 effort was strong all month long and to have it end the way it did was unfortunate. I must thank the entire group at TBC Retail Group and their four retail brands – NTB, Big O Tires, Tire Kingdom and Merchant Tires – for the opportunity.”

Howard was running in the top half of the field early in the 100th anniversary Indy 500 on May 29 when his outing was ended by a Lap 62 crash triggered by a loose wheel as he came off pit road. He finished 30th in his first 500-miler.

“Jay had a fantastic run going at the Indy 500, but it just wasn’t meant to be,” Schmidt said. “We really appreciate the support of Service Central and their brands that are making it possible for Jay to have another shot at Texas.”

The 2006 Firestone Indy Lights champion, Howard has made 10 IndyCar Series starts, including a 26th and last-place finish at TMS in June 2010 with Sarah Fisher Racing. A mechanical failure on the No. 66 Dallara/Honda sidelined Howard after 37 of 228 laps.

“We are entering into an event where anything can happen. But as we showed in Indianapolis, our team is ready for anything that does happen,” said Bobby Rahal, RLL co-owner. “Jay impressed us on race day and we are very optimistic that he can have another good weekend for us in Texas.”

The Boy Scouts of America will serve as an official sponsor of the IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights, INDYCAR officials announced Monday.

BSA was introduced to motorsports in 2010 through an association with Dale Coyne Racing, an experience that convinced officials of the 101-year-old organization that INDYCAR was an ideal partner to advance their youth leadership and education initiatives. BSA expects to use the INDYCAR relationship to teach Scouts about the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) aspects of racing.

IndyCar Series driver Alex Lloyd raced the Boys Scouts of America-branded No. 19 Dallara/Honda through the 2010 schedule, culminating in rookie of the year honors. This season Lloyd is sharing driving duties with former Champ Car World Series champion Sebastien Bourdais. Lloyd drives the ovals, including this weekend at TMS, while Bourdais races the road and street courses.

Scouts will be able to visit the Dale Coyne Racing paddock to talk to engineers and see the team at work firsthand on race weekends. Discounted tickets will be available at numerous races across the country, and promotional elements such as Scout Alley will be activated for behind-the-scenes access to the motorsports industry.

“One of INDYCAR’s goals is to grow its audience and establish the next generation of fans,” said Randy Bernard, INDYCAR’s chief executive officer. “This relationship with the Boy Scouts of America allows us to engage new and younger demographic sectors and create a more family friendly environment, serving our youth initiatives through its grassroots campaigns.”

BSA boasts 2.7-million youth members, more than one million adult volunteers and nearly 50 million living alumni. The agreement between the Boy Scouts of America and INDYCAR extends until December 2012.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, June 7 2011
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